“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” E.B. White.

This is the first of multiple articles on famous writers and their routines that will appear occasionally, taken from the Brain Pickings organization. They offer authors some sound ideas.

It’s important for writers to have routines that keep them on track and writing. Author, poet, actress, and director Maya Angelou gave a very funny interview explaining her routine that guided her for years as a successful writer. As she told the Paris Review in the fall of 1990, “I write in the morning and then go home about midday and take a shower, because writing, as you know, is very hard work, so you have to do a double ablution.

Then I go out and shop — I’m a serious cook — and pretend to be normal. I play sane — ‘Good morning! Fine, thank you. And you?’ And I go home. I prepare dinner for myself and if I have house guests, I do the candles and the pretty music and all that.

Then after all the dishes are moved away, I read what I wrote that morning. And more often than not if I’ve done nine pages, I may be able to save two and a half or three. That’s the cruelest time you know, to really admit that it doesn’t work. And to blue pencil it. When I finish maybe fifty pages and read them — fifty acceptable pages — it’s not too bad. I’ve had the same editor since 1967. Many times, he has said to me over the years or asked me, Why would you use a semicolon instead of a colon? And many times, over the years I have said to him things like: ‘I will never speak to you again. Forever. Goodbye. That is, it. Thank you very much.’ And I leave.

Then I read the piece and I think of his suggestions. I send him a telegram that says, ‘OK, so you’re right. So, what? Don’t ever mention this to me again. If you do, I will never speak to you again.’ About two years ago I was visiting him and his wife in the Hamptons. I was at the end of a dining room table with a sit-down dinner of about fourteen people. Way at the end I said to someone, ‘I sent him telegrams over the years.’ From the other end of the table he said, ‘And I’ve kept every one!’ Brute! But the editing, one’s own editing, before the editor sees it, is the most important.”

Great advice and as Angelou also notes, writing is hard work. Do you have a writing routine? Share what routines work for you as a writer!



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